Contributor: Written by Staff of The Recovery Village
When a parent, an older sibling, or even an extended family member struggles with substance abuse and addiction, it can have a deep impact on the children in the family.
Their emotions can be overwhelming and difficult for them to discuss, but it’s important that a priority is placed on helping them to work through their feelings on the issue.
Important note: Safety is the primary issue. If children in your family are in danger due to the drug use of their legal caregivers, intervene immediately. If the caregivers will not willingly allow you to care for the children, it may be necessary to involve the child welfare department in your state.
Legally Appointed Adults
It can be difficult for a child from a family struggling with addiction to know which adults to trust. Often, the drug-using person attempts to protect himself, or herself, by telling the children to say nothing to anyone or asking them to lie.
The fear of being taken away from their parent – even if that parent is a bad one – is greater than their fears associated with continuing to live with them and their addiction in most cases. Additionally, they may be more scared of the unknown or the harm that they perceive will come to their family member if they tell the truth.
However, social workers, case workers, court-appointed attorneys, healthcare workers, and others can provide a sounding board for kids who have concerns or need help figuring out what is okay and what isn’t. Though it may take work and time, the people in these roles are uniquely able to hear and support children in families with addiction.
What Are Kids Thinking?
- Fear: “What’s going to happen next? Am I going to get hurt?”
- Anger: “Why don’t they just stop acting like that?”
- Sadness: “I wish my family member wouldn’t drink/use drugs.”
- Insecurity: “I wish my family was like other families.”
- Lack of self-confidence: “I don’t have anyone who believes in me and supports me.”
Family therapists and child therapists both have expertise in working with children. Find one who also has experience working with substance abuse treatment, and you have the perfect person for a child struggling with the issues related to an addiction in the family.
It is important that the child have personal sessions with the therapist, that do not include the addicted family member. If the child is too young to see the therapist alone, a trusted, non-addicted family member of the child’s choosing may be able to support him/her by being in the room, but the focus should be on the child and his/her concerns.
For very young children, talk therapy is rarely the best option. Even for older kids, verbalizing what they have seen and experienced to someone else, especially someone outside of the family, can be difficult at first.
It may be more effective to utilize play therapy or art therapy in order to give the child a tool with which to express their emotions without having to verbally indict an addicted loved one.
Risks of Family Addiction for Kids
- Kids in the family may struggle at school and fall behind.
- Kids may have difficulty building and maintaining positive relationships with friends.
- Low self-esteem may become an issue.
- Ultimately, kids may develop their own drug abuse and addiction problems.
There are a number of support groups available for family members of addicts, even children and teens. Groups like Al-Anon and Alateen as well as Families Anonymous are based on the 12 steps and seek to provide peer support for families from other families who have or are currently living with the same issues.
Also, organizations like Children of Alcoholics Foundation and National Association for Children of Alcoholics provide information as well as support and assistance to children and their families when in need due to addiction. A number of these organizations also provide online resources for kids who need someone to talk to.
Connecting With the Right Resources
It is important, especially when children are involved, that the addicted person enters treatment as soon as possible and remains connected with treatment services for as long as needed to stabilize in recovery. Contact us now to learn more about how we can help support the addicted person and their family members.
Community Discussion – Share your thoughts here!
What is your experience with seeking support for kids of families with addiction issues?
Last Updated & Reviewed By: Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on November 8th, 2014
Published on AddictionHope.com